"Long John Nebel (born John Zimmerman; June 11, 1911 – April 10, 1978) was an influential New York City talk radio show host.
From the mid-1950s until his death in 1978, Nebel was a hugely popular all-night radio host, with millions of regular listeners and what Donald Bain described as "a fanatically loyal following" to his syndicated program, which dealt mainly with anomalous phenomena, UFOs, and other offbeat topics.
Nebel's program gave the impression of being freewheeling and unpredictable, prone to sidetracks and digressions; very different from the precise, mannered approach of most contemporary radio. There were occasional heated arguments—rather mild when compared to the conflict on more recent programs such as the Jerry Springer Show, but such open conflict in any media was quite startling in the 1950s and 1960s.
Nebel, along with his regular guests and panelists, would interview various personalities and claimants (such as psychic Kuda Bux), and take occasional telephone calls from listeners in the New York area. He would also interview novelists and discuss their books in detail. He was surprised on one occasion by novelist Iris Murdoch's response that she was a frequent listener and had modeled one of her characters after one of his guests.
Nebel's approach was unique: talk radio per se did not yet exist as it would in later decades, and Nebel was navigating largely uncharted territory. Sometimes, Nebel entered the discussions, other times he described himself as a "moderator" and allowed his guests to have spirited debates, commenting only occasionally to guide the debate, or to announce station breaks.
It was not uncommon for Nebel to disappear for 20 minutes or more around 3:00 am and leave his panel of frequent guests to run the show without him. Nebel usually invited callers during the last two hours of the program (from about 3:00 to 5:00 am); up to 40,000 people might try to telephone during this period.
Nebel was perhaps best described as a curious skeptic with respect to the reality of paranormal topics; he frequently characterized himself as a "non-believer". Regarding the claims of the many contactees he interviewed, Nebel stated: "I don't buy any of it." He also noted that he was intrigued by some UFO reports, but did not have any firm conclusions or explanations.
Some critics attacked Nebel for allowing crackpots free rein on the program, but he responded by saying his was not a traditional news or investigative journalism show, and that it was up to listeners to determine the validity of any guest's claims.
Nebel often asked pointed questions of his guests when he saw logical fallacies or inconsistencies in their stories. He did not suffer fools gladly, unless the fool was exceptionally entertaining. Still, he was rather sympathetic in at least offering guests a forum to state their claims.
When programs dealt with health and exercise, Nebel was fond of saying: "I am a lover, not an athlete." He also popularized the expression "wack-a-ding-hoi" for an idea or guest he believed was a little "crazy". When asked why his television show was no longer on the air, Nebel would respond that he was not good-looking enough to be on television. His friendly, good-humored approach was one of the great reasons for his popularity.
Flying saucers were in the news regularly in the mid-1950s, and were a frequent topic on Nebel's show. Guests related to this subject included retired Marine Corps Major Donald Keyhoe, contactees George Adamski and George Van Tassel, and skeptics like Arthur C. Clarke and Lester del Rey. Nebel discussed the so-called Shaver Mystery, the Flatwoods monster, the Nazca Lines, and many other uncommon subjects.
Nebel gave a forum to Otis T. Carr, an Oklahoman who claimed to have discovered the secret of flying saucer propulsion, by studying the works of Nikola Tesla. With some of his regular panelists, Nebel journeyed to Oklahoma City for the unveiling of Carr's saucer. (Carr was later convicted of fraud and jailed after he took several hundred thousand dollars from investors, and never produced his prototype.)
Nebel was not above a few pranks, all in the name of showmanship and ratings: on one occasion, for example, he colluded with a friend to offer testimony supporting a guest's claims of astral projection.
Nebel spent weeks on his show developing a tale for his audience that the Empire State Building was rotated on giant ball bearings in the wee hours of the morning. At first Nebel said the motion was almost imperceptible. As the prank developed over time, Nebel began telling callers that if they visited the Empire State Building very late at night, they would find the shops at ground level had switched location to the block around the corner.
Nebel also was fond of telling his audience that the finest candle wicks were grown on "wick farms" located in the Midwest.
The fact that Nebel's second wife, Candy Jones claimed to have been the subject of CIA experiments in mind-control was discounted as a prank by those who pointed out his history of promoting hoaxes. Nebel, on the other hand, said that he believed what Jones had revealed to him under hypnosis, and never believed that her story was false in any way.
Although long plagued with heart disease, he was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1971. Nebel sought various treatments, but by the mid-1970s, he was in very poor health. He continued broadcasting, however, usually six nights per week, with Candy Jones as his co-host. Nebel died in 1978 and his Mutual network slot was taken over by Larry King. His show on WOR, called "Partyline", was handed to James Randi, skeptic and frequent guest on Nebel's show over the years. "